Flint, Michigan is usually in the headlines for its hardships, or as the butt of a joke, but for one glittering night, Flint’s Northwestern High School seniors got to leave all that behind. Literally. They elected to host their prom not in Flint, but on a Detroit riverboat an hour’s bus ride away, a choice that reflects many of the graduating seniors’ hopes to move on from the city’s perpetual state of emergency.
Flint hasn’t had drinkable water for over three years, almost as long as these students have been in high school. The pipes won’t be replaced until 2020, at which point many of these young people will have earned associates degrees or be halfway through their time at four year colleges. And while the teenagers dancing the night away on that riverboat were celebrating that they’re almost to the finish line, it’s impossible to forget that not everyone in Flint was so lucky.
Michigan Health Department Director Nick Lyon was charged with involuntary manslaughter for deaths that resulted from an outbreak of Legionaries Disease stemming from the water crisis. Other Flint and Michigan leaders have been hit with felony charges for their role in the city’s public health disaster. And, while it’s not clear yet just how many people are affected or what their outcomes will be, some future Flint high school students will surely be coping with the effects of lead poisoning and other contaminants, which can cause learning disabilities, as well as neurologic and psychological effects. Even before the pipes corroded and the water crisis began, Flint struggled with the crime and violence of other small, poor towns. It’s never been an easy place to grow up.